The Benefit Of Micro-Breaks To Combat Burnout
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It can happen to anyone and is most common in people who are overworked or working in a stressful environment for an extended period of time.
Taking a holiday might help reduce feelings of burnout in the short term, but to prevent it from being a recurring problem, the cause needs to be tackled head-on.
Now, new studies are finding that a very simple and cost-effective solution could be the answer to kicking burnout once and for all, resulting in a more positive work environment and enhanced productivity.
What causes burnout?
Burnout is a state of mental and physical exhaustion you can experience from overwork, but it’s not the same as simply being tired. A person who is burned out may feel like they have no more energy to give; they zone out or coast through the day without being mentally present, even when their work isn’t stressing them out.
Burnout is caused by long-term stress from any direction – it could be that work is causing them stress or issues in their personal life. Either one or a combination of both can lead to burnout.
Even if employees are working from home, burnout is still a possibility. A study by Superhuman found the existence of “email fatigue” or “virtual fatigue”. According to the study, email fatigue is fast becoming the main cause of employees’ dissatisfaction with remote work. More than a third of respondents said that email and message overload might be the reason they’d quit their job.
Micro-breaks – what are they?
Burnout has become a buzzword in recent years, and the new attention on this mental health condition has brought a wave of interested scientists and funding eagerly looking for prevention and cure.
According to a number of recent studies, the answer could be very simple.
A new meta-analysis published by PLOS One journal examined 30 years of research into office-related stress. Scientists at the West University of Timisoara in Romania examined 22 studies conducted over the past three decades. They found that so-called micro breaks could have a large effect on overall mood.
A micro-break is classed as any short break that you take from work during the day.
Micro breaks can be something as small as taking two minutes to fetch a fresh cup of coffee, going for a quick walk outside for some fresh air or chatting with a colleague. The key to a micro-break being effective was not thinking about work at all. The study found that activities like helping a colleague or discussing work could lead to decreased wellbeing and negative thoughts.
Micro breaks can help you recover in small ways after periods of intense focus
Micro breaks are quick and easy to take, but they provide similar benefits as longer breaks—they allow employees to refocus on their work with renewed energy. They’re especially useful during busy days that demand focus on multiple projects at once.
Breaking up the day with physical activity can improve concentration, memory and clear our minds of difficult problems.
When we work, our bodies are in a constant state of tension due to prolonged sitting and repetitive movements. The muscles in our necks, shoulders, and back become tight from stress and tension. This can lead to pain, leading us to tense up even further.
Micro breaks don’t have to be regulated or scheduled, although studies did find that physical breaks were particularly useful in preventing burnout and reducing fatigue. Something as simple as stretching or walking could decrease stress and improve overall mental wellness and productivity.
The benefits of physical activity during the day include improved mood, better concentration and memory, a reduction in stress, enhanced creativity and increased ability in problem-solving.
How can CEOs implement micro-breaks to improve productivity?
Several studies and meta-analysis projects have noted the importance of taking micro-breaks to improve mood and productivity, so how can CEOs use this to improve workplace culture and job satisfaction?
Scheduling breaks in the workday can sound like the easiest solution, but interestingly, it doesn’t really work. The meta-analysis from West University of Timisoara noted that any feeling of connection to work would undo the power of taking a break and potentially worsen an employee’s mood further.
Instead of scheduling breaks, introduce a degree of flexibility that allows your employees to take a break when they need to. Encourage them to go for a stretch or get a coffee when they feel themselves struggling. Allowing each individual to choose when they take their break gives them a feeling of control and will enable them to take a break when they need it most.
If you’re concerned about this new flexibility not being used, consider stating recommendations for the organisation. For example, three ten-minute breaks and three five-minute breaks in addition to a thirty-minute lunch break. This allows your team to have a degree of flexibility but also signposts of what your organisation would reasonably expect from micro-breaks.
Other ways for CEOs to combat burnout
Micro breaks aren’t the only way to combat burnout. The Superhuman study found that 50% of remote workers were spending their own money on tools to help manage their productivity, with a further 17% suggesting that they planned to do this in future.
If you want your employees to be productive, then it’s vital that you give them the tools to do so. For example, consider corporate memberships to one of the big productivity apps to help your workers, or allow a “productivity” budget that a staff member can dip into with approval from managers if they feel that an extra tool could benefit their work.
Burnout has been an issue for decades. However, in 2022, when open conversations around mental health are finally being encouraged, it’s vital that CEOs and leaders listen to what their teams are telling them and take steps to act upon it, in order to boost productivity and staff retention.